Once Upon a Time, four simple words that hold the power to unlock the doors to lands of mystical wonderment. Lands filled with evil witches, giant dragons, charming princes and beautiful princesses who almost always need saving. Those four words are a gateway to adventure and for many children, an escape from the harsh realities of our adult world. ABC hopes those four words will be something else as well, an invitation to sit down in front of their television every Sunday night to watch their newest series, a fantastical tale of displaced fairytale characters.
Once Upon a Time kicks off with the iconic scene of the Huntsman coming to find Snow White encased in a glass tomb only to give her a kiss that awakens her, breaking the evil Queen’s spell. Having everyone live happily ever after in the opening moments of a new television series does not make for longevity though and the Queen vows to have her vengeance on Snow White.
Meanwhile in the real world the show stars Jennifer Morrison, best know for her role as Dr. Cameron on House, as Emma Swan. Emma is a loner who on her birthday wishes for some company and magically a young boy appears at her door. That boy, Henry (Jared Gilmore), claims to be her son that she gave up 10 years ago and he also claims that his hometown is filled with storybook characters that just don’t know they are storybook characters and that Emma is the one to help them get back.
The concept for the series is fantastic and there were seemingly a ton of different directions this show could have went but for better or worse, Once Upon a Time went the safe route. Instead of slowly building audiences up to the fact that Henry is indeed telling the truth, they intertwine the fairytale story with the real world story so nothing is left in doubt. Undoubtedly this approach makes for a more accessible show for families but it feels like so much potential was wasted to go that route. But family friendly it is and to be honest, that is a good thing. There are too few shows that children can watch with their parents and have both enjoy on equal footing.
Once Upon a Time falters a bit here and there, mostly with the acting being overly melodramatic in the fantasy setting but for the most part it hits the notes one would want from a fairytale based television show. Will Once Upon a Time have a happy ending? It is too early to tell but this pilot lays a solid groundwork for something special. Hopefully they can build on that because Once Upon a Time offers something that is different from everything else on television and that is always a good thing.
4* out of 5